Punching in the Wind
As the tape began its clockwise rotation around his wrist, Henry Jesus “The Flyer” Jorge felt the usual adhesive side pull against the hairs. Wrapping the tape from wrist to hands, The Flyer closed his eyes and imagined the fight ahead. The jabs, the stances and gliding of feet, and the physical pressures required as he fought his way to the championship. When he was younger in Little Puerto Rico, he was taught that job security was insecure and that he would need to fight for everything gained. In alleys, him and his friends, as well as rivals, would prepare for their future; bareknuckle boxing each other for hours after school and on weekends. By the age of seven, Henry had broken two fingers, dislocated his middle knuckle on the right hand, and fractured one rib on the left.
Him and his closest friends would hold sleep overs at different homes throughout the weeks and weekends; rotation was based on which parents were approving of the lot of them to stay or which were too stone drunk to object. Most usual pick was Henry’s house. Being the safest choice, some of his friends would sleep over even during nights that they weren’t holding a group sleepover.
Henry’s father was an honorable man of many morals. Sadly, by the age of twelve, Henry’s father had been killed in a workplace accident. Steel Works and Factory, the place where Jesus Ramirez Jorge, Henry’s father, worked was regularly cited for varying workplace hazards. Being that Steel Works and Factory hired many minority and poor community members from Little Puerto Rico and being well connected with many politicians most of their citations were reduced, forgiven, or overlooked. However, these overlooks and lowered repercussions had caused the Jorge family their husband, father, and friend.
With Mr. Jorge’s death, Steel Works and Factory was never charged harshly. Additionally, being that Jesus was still in the process of becoming a full United States citizen the respect for his case had low expectations. Given a simple stipend for the loss of life to his family, a fine paid that was reduced through bribes, and a simple apology the company was let off without any lessons learned.
Jesus and Henry’s mother, Dalia Jorge, met while Dalia bussed and waited on tables at the Pit Stop Diner, which was the closest restaurant to the mill. Being of Puerto Rican decent, Dalia had full US citizenship, and through marriage and his stable career, Jesus was protected as he went through the immigration process.
Flickering above his head, Henry could see the shadows around the room disappear and then reappear from under his hood that rested around his face. With little other opportunity, Henry hoped to make his rise to prominence in boxing. His father taught him the importance of guarding, jabbing when open, and patience. His coach, Rollie “Fingers” Vasquez, took Henry under his ownership and guidance before his father lost his life in the mill. When Jesus had died, Rollie stepped in to fill the father vacancy role for Henry. They would train each day after school and into the late night; as well, being that Dalia was hyper focused on school achievement over ring achievement, Rollie also tutored Henry in his school work. However, being that Rollie never passed the eighth grade, he learned as much as Henry did in each lesson.
Smacking his shoulders and voicing prays before the match, Rollie pushed his forehead against Henrys. Pre-punches were a ritual for the team. When he first started training Henry, Rollie would say, “It will toughen your skin, boy, and remember those fist in the ring will be a lot tougher!” Pulling on Henry’s gloves and checking the tape job at the wrist, Rollie prepared Henry like he was to go into battle. The checkup was so usual that it became as normal as walking for Henry. Though he nearly felt none of it, if not preformed everything proceeding would feel incorrect.
Coming from a family of six and placed in the middle, Henry was usually the least noticed. But, as The Flyer, he was the pinnacle of the family’s pride now. The income from fighting paid well enough; but, he was still considered an amateur fighter and was in the range of lightweight. When he was adolescent and teen, he would try and bulk up but never gained enough to be a larger man like his father Jesus and two other brothers. So, he learned to perfect his position and strength of agility instead.
The room rumbled with the collective noise of the crowd as they stomped and chanted for the fight to come. Most of the viewers were from Little Puerto Rico and filled the crowd with fanatical excitement for their hero – The Flyer. Known for his slick feet and flying fist, Henry fought with passion and focus.
The money he collected from each match went to his family and the first place winner of each match night got a bonus of two hundred and fifty dollars. The last place would only garner their entrance payment of fifty dollars. As the matches dwindled down, he was now in the final match against the other top ranked fighters and the bonus for first place was much needed for his family.
The flutters of anxiety flowed up from his stomach and into his throat. Melting in cold streaks, the anxiety returned back down like ice water. Though favored to succeed, Henry was not a person who based future outcomes on faith of confidence. Rather, success was achieved through focus, patience, and perseverance. This was the final match for his local tri-city league, and beyond were the opportunities at regionals. The pay was better for each qualified contender at regionals, and the better funds would be used for repairs at the mother’s home.
Without many options, Henry found work at the same mill his father had been fatally killed. As he walked through the metal security gates each day, he would say a loving and forgiveness request pray to this father. Much to his mother’s heavy disappointment, Henry worked at the mill based on desperation to support his large family than anything else. Beginning in the janitorial services division, he had worked his way up the divisional ladders and now reached the position of machinery operator. The position was a step lower than the one his father held, which was machinery repairs and operations.
Palming his face left and right, Rollie proceeded with his regular words of encouragements, “Ya got this! Ya know, you are a good kid! Your dad would be proud. Damn that mill!” Spitting upon the floor, the expected words and ritual movements proceeded, “An’ you’ve gotten yourself this far – kid! You have helped community and family, and you will soon be onto further heights!” Lifting himself up from crouched eye level, Rollie placed his fist against his hips. Wearing the chosen colors of satin blood red and white stripes, Henry always wondered who chose the color scheme. The way the colors mixed looked similar to a cotton ball being pulled from his nose after a match…
Smacking his plain fist against Henry’s red gloves, Rollie said, “I know you are anxious, son but remember what you are fighting for. You have the speed of a humming bird, the power of the bull, and the determination of a mother bear. I am proud of you, and tonight you will go farther than you have ever before.” Pulling at Henry’s base of his neck, Rollie collided their foreheads together again and prayed for God’s protection, love, and strength. Nodding in agreement, Henry knew what was at stake and was focused on the match ahead.
Proceeding down the white painted cement hall, his feet felt as if they were trudging through swampy mud. Joyfully massaging his shoulders and slapping at his back, Rollie spoke words of encouragement but all his words sounded muffled like he was talking through a pillow. His mind was in the steps, rolls, pulls, and punches he would be throwing. The match was in place in his head already. Feeling the crowd’s excitement in their roars, his anxiety fluttered even heavier in his chest.
As if waking from a deep sleep to the bright flash of a Maglite in the eyes, Henry entered the main floor with the spotlights all on him. Their boisterous roars rolled through the stadium as their champion was made viewable. Everyone stood, even some upon their seats to see him. Those close enough reached out to touch his shoulders or pat him on the back with encouraging words for the upcoming fight. Entering the ring, he modestly took in the excitement and waved with one hand as he turned to face everyone.
Anxiety peaking, Henry didn’t even hear the voice of the announcer shout in the microphone, “In this corner – local hero Henry ‘The Flyer” Jorge! Weighting in at 135 pounds, he is known for his speed and punches – not just his size!” The crowd roared and stomped at the introduction and began shouting “Fly away!” with each pause between the stomps.
“And in this corner,” the announcer proceeded, “the man known for his fist, towering frame, and determination to give no space for his opponent – George ‘No Quarters’ Wright! Weighing in at a powerful strength of 145 pounds, he stands at five-six but brings down a tower of fury!” While the crowd was filled with the fanatical followers for Henry, the seats also housed large support groups for George “No Quarters” Wright, and with his official announcement the peppered through supports stomped, clamped, cheered, and whistled for their guy.
Being encouraged forward to the middle, the two opponents faced one another with folded brows and twitchy muscles. Their eyes burned into one another’s and sweat streamed down their faces. No Quarters anxiously pressed back upon his heels and forward upon the toes tempting the space between them while The Flyer stood firm. Fixed on his opponent, Henry kept concentration on No Quarter’s anxious movements. While larger in frame and strength, Henry worked out detailed plans in his mind for the coming collide.
Knocking each other’s gloves, the lightweight contenders nodded at one another and the announcer pointed each back to their home corners. Rollie shouted encouragements and instructions into Henry’s ear but it sounded like whispers as he competed with the audience. Henry’s arms felt like they were full of feathers but his torso was weighted down by moving water. Remembering the glare of anxiety in No Quarter’s eyes, Henry mapped out the multiple opportunities and mistakes that he would make in the fight. The bell sounded throughout the entire stadium above all other noise. On their feet, they glided to the center of the ring. Gloves up and teeth clamping down.
Eye to eye, the two opponents bumped their gloves together, the referee worded the expected fairness of a clean fight, and the two fighters adjusted their mouth pieces to comfortable position. Stepping back, the referee lifted and then brought down his hand and shouted for the fight to begin. Bringing their fists to eye level, the two fighters closed the in upon the imaginary boarder between them.
As if circling a disputed kill in the middle of the ring, the two made their mental preparations and looked for openings. Trying their best to use their peripheral vision, each did not want to give clues to where the other was seeking their first opening. Twisting at the middle and bringing up a fake punch to The Flyer’s right, No Quarters leaned in with a right forcing The Flyer to defend. With a lighting fast change in position, No Quarters brought up on the left and landed a left hook to The Flyer’s cheek. The slam was weaker than his right hook, but the force of the blow brought spots into The Flyer’s eyes. Countering, The Flyer released an automatic shoulder into the chest of No Quarters to give him space and then a right hook into No Quarter’s side. Anticipating, No Quarter’s withdrew from the blow and reduced the damage levied.
Stepping in, the referee broke them up, gave a few seconds for a slight pause, and then allowed the fighters to proceed once more.
Collecting themselves back to the middle, they began their circling dance once more. Knowing the requirements and pressures of family, community, and the need for his success the flutters that swirled around in his stomach felt as if they were trying to escape through his mouth. Lines of sweat ran down No Quarter’s forehead; his posture was tight but hunched just a little at the shoulders. His fist looked like the heads of hammers. Within a quick blink, No Quarters was shooting fists at The Flyer’s face, torso, and sides in a fury. As if this was a life or death, No Quarters rained down upon The Flyer.
Breathing heavy with dazed memory, Henry rested upon a stool in his corner. No Quarters was being slapped on the shoulders with smiles on his team’s face, he was leading the fight. Henry was pained and puffy from eye to jaw. His body reddened around his shoulders, stomach, and sides; worse hit along his right side. Tears and sweat streamed down his face and rested at the chin. With the ring of the bell, he pulled himself up upon his weakened legs and inched back to the center. The fight was back on. Blow upon blow, he felt as if he was going to shatter like glass.
Smelling the sweat and blood stained floor, Henry felt the strength leave him as he exhaled. Nearly unable to roll upon either of his sides, he laid there as the counts moved down from ten. His mind was numb and his body and limbs were sore to the tips. As the referee counted down, he heard each number in slow decent. Shouts from his community pleaded for him to rise and not give up. Willing himself forward, he pressed upon his elbows and gloves and he rose from the bedding below. The lights bright above, he rose himself to full standing.
Staggering, he fell to each side upon liquid feet. Holding him straight, the referee asked him health concerning questions. Waving him off, The Flyer moved back to the center. Holding his lead weighted gloves he saw lights break his vision again and then again. Each blow felt as if he was getting hit by sand bags. With difficulty breathing, he fell again to the floor.
All sounds were filtered through ears plugged of cotton. At the distant sound of a high pitched buzz the match was over. Without strength, he fell into the darkness of a deep sleep.
Reaching second place in the local finals, many others were proud of him but for Henry the title was a representation that he was close to the top but just not good enough. While the body would heal, his soul was fractured.
Within a few weeks, he was standing firm again on stable earth below his feet. While still bruised and swollen, Henry had returned to his regular training schedule to prepare for the next attempt of reaching finals. Each punch in the leather lined sand punching bag felt as if he was going shatter, but he kept on.
The reward money received for his placement in the local finals was used to help pay some repairs at his mother’s home. The money nearly paid for the full repairs, and it stung to know that the first place reward money would have been able to pay for the entire first repair and then a portion of the next repair still needing attention. Working an extra shift at the mill, he put in the hours to make up the gap of money still needed to help his family, and the few other free hours he had left were used to keep practicing boxing. Rollie stayed persistent in Henry’s training. Being both Henry’s physical and emotional support, he explained that Henry’s loss in the match was due more to his inability to anticipate an opponent of higher or equal quality than himself and not due to his physical preparedness.
Rollie was right. Henry’s over confidence in his fighting skills were inconsistent to when he was matched against a more experienced fighter like No Quarters. The previous fights Henry faced were against local enthusiast who practiced much less in comparison. Now, through his defeat, it had shown that these previous matches made him too arrogant and assuming. He had failed. He had failed himself, his family, his community, and who he wished to impress most – his father.
With each wrist breaking blow to the bag, Henry kept these thoughts in the forefront of his mind. He knew who was responsible for his failure. Henry was not one to blame others for his mistakes. Still stinging from his match, he would progress again and have another match against No Quarters. Henry, like No Quarters, would progress to Regionals too and finish in the higher rankings such as No Quarters had. In the final matches of the Regionals, No Quarters reached placement of fourth. While disappointing for No Quarters, it was still higher than what Henry had achieved.
When Henry was younger, his father taught him to, “Learn from your mistakes, learn from others who teach you best, and learn without judgement. This will make you a good man and person one day, son.” Taking this lesson as a personal mantra, when No Quarters returned from Regionals Henry sought him out and requested to train with him.
When the door opened to the gym, all shadows scattered away as the explosive sunlight entered in. The silhouette frames were all that was visible as they stood in the door way. Proceeding forward, George “No Quarters” Wright and his coach Jim Stuart walked into Punching Bag gym with their bags in hand and excitement in their steps. Nodding to Henry, they approached the sore man and said, “Flyer, are you ready?”